GM of TSH Berlin: ‘I wish hoteliers got more credit’
—— As do we.
With open, boundary-blurring spaces specifically designed for connection, co-working and co-living, the COVID-19 pandemic has been especially challenging for the highly collaborative communities that have been created by The Student Hotel.
The brand, designed mainly to accommodate students, is home to hundreds of long-term resident guests in 14 locations across six European countries.
For Philip Ibrahim, General Manager at TSH Berlin, one of the positive takeaways from what has ultimately been a difficult period has been the reaction of his staff, although more credit from the broader community would be appreciated.
“How our team has reacted has been amazing,” says Philip. “For many, their main duty is currently not possible, but they have been committed to training and developing professionally to host and make guests happy.
“At the moment, though, I wish hoteliers were getting more credit and respect from the government and society for the important role they’re playing, and will play once more when this is over. I want to see more love for what we do and the situation we are in!”
Philip, a young hospitality veteran who has a clear love for the industry, says of the impact on TSH, “It’s quite hard in a company where social distancing is essentially 100 percent opposite to the brand’s DNA, but we knew we had to adapt. Moving all the activities we normally have in our common spaces onto a virtual solution has been extremely successful and good for morale.”
Open for as long as guests are around
For TSH, the pandemic has presented a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to host the world’s largest travel event – albeit at a much smaller scale. TSH Berlin played host to ‘Mini ITB Berlin’ in early March for around 20 exhibitors and 500 travel industry professionals who had already arrived in the city.
Since then, adapting to the situation has involved ramping up safety measures and opening doors to a range of those working on the COVID-19 frontlines.
The company has put screens into its receptions, is instigating extra sanitisation of all of its touchpoints, and is creating especially large distances for those sitting exams, which have been taking place in some locations.
The TSH brand has become renowned for its positivity and social conscience, so the approach taken to helping those in need has been unsurprisingly generous.
As said by the company’s founder and CEO, Charlie MacGregor, in a recent update video, “We’re going to be open until we don’t have any customers. We’ve reached out to embassies, we’ve reached out to NGOs, to The Salvation Army and the Red Cross in some cities. We’ve reached out to the army, local hospitals and, of course, doctors and nurses, to provide accommodation for them.
“We’ve been able to provide accommodation to people who have been kicked out of other hotels and we’re trying to help this situation in any way we can, because it’s a time when everybody’s stepping up.”
Connecting guests with hotel staff online
Philip is currently accommodating approximately 80 student guests at TSH Berlin, and describes the role that TSH ‘connectors’ have had in keeping up the spirits of those who are largely bound to their rooms.
“The team has set up virtual events for those staying at our hotels, as well as the staff members currently working remotely, with events ranging from dance classes and free language courses to virtual yoga.
“We’ve also set up an internal E-learning platform to keep the student spirit alive and a buddy system for those who prefer personal contact with a colleague. Every Friday afternoon we’ve been getting around 300 people to our internal company drinks. This all keeps us connected and we’re making sure that everyone is doing okay.”
BedTalks, a mainstay of the brand, has also launched its very first live edition of digital talks, which from the safety of a bedroom explore the new daily normal through the lens of experts, thinkers and creatives.
A chance to reflect upon the industry
This time has also enabled Philip to reflect upon the role of OTAs within the industry and how, he feels, major companies in recent weeks have let the industry down with their lack of transparency.
“I have always been a supporter of all OTAs, because I am a really big user of them and see that they are necessary. But the partnership between OTAs and hotels in the future will likely be different to what it has been in the past and what we see now. In fact, I think there will be a dramatic change in the way that the industry will work with them,” says Philip.
“I would love to see a higher level of communication. I think in each partnership, transparent and clear communication is key, when the times are difficult. Especially for smaller hotels in our industry, the pressure is so immense, and I really see that there might be a different definition of partnership at the moment.”
For now, #TSHLife has temporarily evolved, and will return to a new normal shortly, says Philip. Before that time, however, there’s a host of solitary courtyard DJ sets for the guests in their rooms, corridor trolleys full of lollies and many more online gatherings to come.
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